Secrets of exceptional associates

This post is the first of three summarizing what 10 big firm partners think contributed to their success as an associate. In their view (which LegalJob shares), one’s success as an associate depends on whether they have: (i) an insatiable thirst for knowledge; (ii) strong interpersonal communication skills; (iii) a high level of enthusiasm for their work; (iv) a partner’s mindset; (v) a long term view; (vi) willingness to seek and take feedback; (vii) good judgment; (viii) a tendency to take ownership; (ix) a strong mentor; and (x) creative intelligence.  

This post describes the first three items.


1.) Insatiable thirst for knowledge

  1. Interested in learning (and improving) by example
    1. Positioning themselves to observe conversations between two attorneys analyzing a case
    2. Seeking work from talented brief writer who may have reputation for being difficult
  2. Interested in everything, especially the business of client and understanding their worlds as well as they do.
    1. Familiar with minutiae (“in the weeds”) and also have a big-picture outlook
      • To see what competition is doing they keep up with general circulation publications, trade journals, and websites of clients and competitors
    2. Posses an inquisitiveness and always looking for new insights and opinions

2.) Interpersonal communication skills

  1. Interact well with a variety of personality types.
  2. Focus on listening, empathizing and problem-solving
  3. Have a genuinely pleasant disposition which translates to interest in collaborating with colleagues, contributing to a pleasant workplace environment and forging good working relationships with others
  4. Give client-type service to everyone.
    1. Substantive service, i.e., learn all the facts, analyze them, get to the bottom of legal issues, anticipate questions, and propose thoughtful alternative solutions
    2. Treat people well, i.e., being present, active listening, appreciating someone’s personal preferences, including real and perceived timing needs, exceeding expectations
    3. Do this for partners, secretaries, legal assistants, other associates, staffers, judges, opposing counsel

3.) Enthusiasm and excitement

  1. Both in their communication and their actions
  2. Sincerely interested in what the partner, client is doing
  3. Smiling at 2 AM
  4. Don’t act like they are doing you a favor by working on the project no matter how tedious.
    1. So not rolling eyes, sighing, or even bland and poker-faced
  5. Great attitude under pressure

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